Thursday, May 17, 2007

I'm not ready for 756

In less than a day's time after its posting on, a news story highlighting Bobby Bonds Jr.'s disapproval of MLB had nearly 640 comments. Bonds' imminent capture of 755 has put many Americans on edge, even those who don't know the first thing about baseball.

There are so many issues that have been integrated into the public discourse that it is nearly impossible to talk to another person about Bonds and actually be talking about the same thing.

He admitted it in court. He's never tested positive. Hank Aaron doesn't deserve this. It's all because Barry Bonds is black. It really doesn't matter whether he cheated because he's an a-hole. Steroids aren't really cheating because Babe Ruth never played against black players. The NFL is much worse. This is only happening because of the 24-hour SportsCenter generation.

Reading through several pages of comments from that Barry Jr. article, I have decided that people are really missing the silver bullet of this whole situation: there is no silver bullet.

For those concerned with race, they are right and wrong. Americans have cultivated a very tenuous culture in this generation that has responded to the civil rights movement delicately. Majority populations feel like minorities, especially blacks, cannot use the race card anymore. Liberation happened, now it's every man for himself and white people should not be made to feel guilty anymore.

You contrast this growing sentiment with another population of people that are constantly trying to demonstrate that racial discrimination still occurs, albeit in different terms. They argue that subtle racism occurs everywhere and that the most racist ones are those who can't even see their bias. All of a sudden you have an incredibly circular argument that doesn't have any traction because the ones who it applies to (the "racists") are racist because they don't understand how racist they are. That's helpful.

When these perspectives clash when Imus talks about hair and Barry gets hated on, the national voices get split. It's about race vs. stop being a race-hawk. Unfortunately, these situations are much more complicated than the available mediums for discourse can handle. In the 1940's newspapers would print a half-page editorial from their best writer who would elucidate the ambiguity and yet provide detailed insight from his own opinion.

Now we have PTI, bloggers and comment threads. We use buzz words that already have tons of meaning in them like a .zip file. All of a sudden, Bonds can't really be examined in any meaningful way. People see "race" and know what they think immediately. We know the facts about these players' changing body types and we pass our verdicts. For so many of us, it is easy enough to simply say that we don't like the guy and we therefore don't have to wrestle with the all of the bizarre intricacies of steroids in sports.

However, comment threads, buzzwords and 20-second arguments will not prepare any of us for what will happen during a baseball game in the coming months. I remember growing up thinking that I would have loved to have seen Hank Aaron beat the record live. I felt like that was something so crucial to that generation. My generation, however, has to decide whether to cheer or not. We get to watch fans around the immediate stadium and around country boo and cheer one of the most dramatic sports moments of last 25 years. I wouldn't be surprised if the whole place went silent as he trotted around the bags.

This is going to be much harder than all of us expect; and despite all of the most well-intentioned voices in the sports media today, none of us have been adequately prepared for 756.

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